Pumpkin Palooza a smash

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Families flocked to Shiloh Elementary School’s First Pumpkin Palooza Oct. 20 where the schoolyard was full of games, science experiments, food and many, many pumpkins.

Pumpkin Palooza was the idea of Shiloh’s elementary teachers, as they aim to expand family involvement and enrich students’ lives through seasonal celebrations and other activities.

Turnout was fantastic, according to pre-k teacher Elizabeth Smothers.

“The final count was 244 people, so that was awesome,” said Smothers. “That was actually about half of all of our families, so that was a great percentage of people who came out and participated.”

It was also right on the school’s estimate of attendees – Smothers noted they bought 85 pumpkins for carving, and only had five left over.

Elementary students were not the only invitees who enjoyed the Palooza, there were plenty of older siblings, parents and grandparents as well. Activities were designed to be tactile and enjoyed at any age.

A scavenger hunt took kids across the schoolyard in search of funny and spooky painted pumpkins and also let them scope out their next activity, like pumpkin carving. For a mad science twist, kids had the opportunity to turn their jack-o-lanterns into volcanoes at the Exploding Pumpkin table. Popular with the older kids was the Rubber Band Pumpkin game where contestants tried to guess how many bands were needed to squeeze a pumpkin in half – then braced for the results. A safe distance from the action, teachers set up Pumpkin Chuckin’ with giant slingshots and a wheelbarrow full of small gourds for ammunition.

Plant-a-Pumpkin had a calmer pace. Here, kids filled pumpkins with potting soil, making an all-natural flowerpot to sprout the seeds. The Pumpkin Funky Freeze was a take on musical chairs, but instead of seats, participants hurdled, climbed and danced around giant pumpkins. If they were hungry, guests could opt for a barbecue dinner, pumpkin pie in a cup, or s’mores. Doughnuts were also an option, but only dangling from a line at the Pumpkin Doughnut Chomp.

It was hard to say if the crowd preferred any one activity.

“I think they just liked the whole atmosphere,” said Smothers. “I can’t say that there was a favorite one.”

Guests were invited to fill out evaluation forms, which staff read afterwards. Sure enough, everyone had a different favored station. What they agreed upon was that everyone felt welcome, and that is high praise for the Shiloh teachers and volunteers.

“To have an event like that, it also has to involve your whole school community,” said Smothers.

And indeed, Shiloh School rallied together to make the Palooza a reality, seeing it as a celebration of the communities Shiloh School represents. Smothers noted school administrators’ support was vital. Elementary teachers planned most of the event, and high school teachers pitched in to help. The high school art class painted pumpkins for the scavenger hunt. Other volunteers also helped with setup and takedown. Overall, everyone had one goal: integrating school with community.

The school is already planning the next round of seasonal events and student enrichment. Coming up is an Arctic-themed Family Reading Night Nov. 13, featuring read-aloud and education stations so kids can learn about the magic of the frozen north.